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In Many of San Miguel’s Rural Communities, Getting Potable Water Still a Hardship

Los Toriles

La Cuadrilla

By Jesús Aguado

“The government has abandoned us here; they don’t visit us,” Gloria Núñez, resident of the rural San Miguel community of Los Toriles says.

Here, of some 200 residents, only 20 people voted in the last election in June 2018, according to data provided by Instituto Nacional Electoral (the National Electoral Institute). During the election, says another Los Toriles resident who did not want to be named, “[a political party] told us they would send vans to bring us to vote but later cancelled saying it was very expensive, that it didn’t make sense.”

Facing a six-hour round trip via the main road to Guanajuato at Boca de la Cañada, most residents of Los Toriles understandably did not go vote.

The low voter turnout from the community, says Núñez, is most likely why the government at all three levels does not attend to the community’s basic needs, and probably explains a far more pressing daily issue in community than the ability to vote: here there is no potable water, no sewage system, and no Internet service available, no [government support]—which when it did exist was only halfway.

The community’s relatively meager water sources include two ponds which have water during the rainy season and a stream that feeds a few wells.

“We have to get up at dawn during the dry season, and we bring whatever a burro can carry, some fifty liters per trip,” a female resident who would not give her name told us. She pointed in the far distance to a canyon. “That’s where the well is.”

On the other side of the community, on top of a hill on a promontory impossible to reach by car, stands a rainwater collection tank, which would improve Los Torilles’s water situation if it were complete. Federal officials began work on it three years ago, and residents were told that there would be a water distribution system put in so that everyone would have water “to wash, water plants, and for other domestic uses.” But even after the local government (this being a federal project) assumed its term in 2018, the tank has stayed incomplete.

A local resident who went by the name Victor took Atención out to see the tank, which was empty. Upon closer inspection, it became clear why: the ditch to collect rainwater has been washed out, and so flowing rainwater does not reach the tank but instead runs off into a nearby stream.

“We’ll see what we can do during the dry season. We have learned to live this way,” said another resident who also preferred to remain anonymous.

Los Galvanes

A similar story exists in the community of Los Galvanes, off the road to Dolores, one of 29 classified as an indigenous community.

Here, a rainwater cistern that a nearby sign says was constructed by the National Council of Arid Zones (CONAZA) at a cost of over five million pesos has also been abandoned. The entry through which rainwater should be flowing is clogged, making the cistern currently useless. Even if the rainwater collection were working properly, it also is located inopportunely: there is no road over which a car access the water tank.

According to community delegate Guadalupe Badillo, the land where the cistern sits was donated by landowners and was primarily meant for the storage of water for animals. She does not know why the cistern is not functioning.

“I have been in Congress for six months, but I will meet with the landowner committee and will see what is needed for it to operate,” she said.

Estancia de Canal

The best these communities can hope for is a water collection tank that works under par, but in the community La Estancia de Canal, along the road to Celaya, residents have managed to band together to ameliorate their situation, thanks to a resident cooperative ownership initiative.

At the base of a hill on a cobblestone road, a tank sits that the community helped build with its own hands. Residents collected cactus and mezquites from the area and terraced the soil to stop erosion around the tank. Estancia de Canal’s community delegate Soledad Ramírez lives right in front of it. It did not capture much water this year, she said.

“The season was not good,” she adds, but “the tank works, and the water distribution network comes all the way to the chapel. Anyone near the network has a connection.”

The families in the community own the water system’s infrastructure. Water usage is measured, and each family pays eight pesos per cubic meter to a committee that they themselves formed.

When Ramírez opened her faucet, the water came out clear. But still, it must be boiled in order to be potable, and so potable water is provided by the public works department every 15 days.

Ramírez bemoaned the meager amount of water falling during the rainy season, but said that the committee made an agreement with resident Don Alfredo López, who owns a dam in the highest part of the area, to fill the community’s rainwater tank.

“We will put in a three-inch tube from the dam. The gentleman told us that it gets filled up in a month or two,” said Ramirez.

Taking responsibility

Osvaldo García, director of the municipality’s Bienestar y Desarrollo Social (Welfare and Social Development) committee told Atención that public works projects such as these tanks are under federal purview and that the municipality only contributed with input into where to place the tanks.

Los Toriles is considered a federal government priority zone, said García. The construction of its water tank was not finished because the builder had problems with CONAZA. However, he said, to show the municipality’s commitment to the project, the local government recently approved 350,000 pesos toward construction so that it can be collecting water next year. This is part of a municipal government decision to take responsibility for eight tanks that have been built in various San Miguel communities, including the ones discussed in this article. The government says it will work with the residents of Los Toriles, La Estancia, Los Galvanes, El Pinalillo, La Cuadrilla, Estancia de Canal, Cruz del Palmar, and San Isidro. Almost 25 million pesos have been invested.

With the exception of Los Galvanes and Toriles, he said, the other works are functioning. But now the government will have to create community committees that will teach people about the proper use and maintenance of the tanks to keep them in working order.


Local NGOs Lend a Hand

According to Lee Carter, projects leader of Midday Rotary Club, in 10 years Rotary has built 1,450 rainwater collection tanks in communities with problems obtaining potable water. The rainwater collected is safe to drink and can be used for cooking as well.

Rotary built 12 cisterns in Los Toriles, each at a cost of about US$500, but that does not include the labor, provided by the beneficiaries. Without the reduced labor costs, the tanks would end up costing up to US$600.

Money for these structures has come from the Rotary Club , the San Miguel Community Foundation, and from individuals. If you would like more information about this program, contact Lee Carter or call 415 151 0176.


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